Good morning, friends. Before you read any further, I’m going to prep you:
- Grab some tissues.
- Pour your coffee.
- This is important.
Three years ago, I was introduced to Ruby’s Rainbow and met Liz, its founder, for the first time when we hugged outside an airport and roomed together in a Hampton Inn near a college we were visiting where two students with Down syndrome were attending. For me, it was a game changer in how I viewed Nella’s future and the opportunities that were available for her. Not only were the students we visited attending college away from their parents in a program designed for individuals with special needs–still a new concept in the small realm of opportunities available for people with intellectual disabilities, but they were thriving–managing day-to-day activities independently, balancing social schedules and talking about post college work opportunities with real hope. Since then, Liz and I have joined together every year to celebrate World Down Syndrome Awareness Day (two weeks away!) by bringing you stories of young people with Down syndrome who are following a path they’ve dreamed of–to leave home and pursue more education after high school like many of their friends.
Last year, in between shopping for backpacks and notebooks and making sure my kids’ gym shoes still fit as we prepared for the first week of school, I had the opportunity to slip away to St. Paul, Minnesota where another family prepared for the first week of school, but in this case it was college. Kirsta Graf, a 22-year old girl who has Down syndrome, was moving away from home and into her dorm to begin the BUILD program at Bethel University. For her parents who years before could barely comprehend what it would look like for their daughter to step on a bus and be away from them for seven hours, this was a big deal. And to Kirsta who was obviously feeling the impact of what this move meant for her as we talked to her the night before the big move, this was even bigger.
I’m not going to tell you the story today because Jay & Michelle, the videographers who accompanied us to document this journey, captured it in the most beautiful way. I cannot watch this video without ugly crying. I see Nella, ten years from now, in that car on the way to college. I see me in Alicia, hugging her and crying and telling her she’s going to do great. I see Brett sitting at the kitchen table, saying he’s worried he’s going to miss her because he likes having her around. I see Lainey and Dash in Kirsta’s sisters, locked in an embrace, sobbing before she walks up those stairs to her new home. It represents everything we want for all of our kids–to feel what it’s like to be nervous and scared as they bravely walk toward what they want in life and the shift from dependence on their parents to the trust in themselves and the strength and capabilities they posses. As Kirsta’s mom says in the video the night before we dropped Kirsta off as she explained how she raised Kirsta to think beyond staying with them forever, “I was just trying to cast a vision for her…beyond these four little walls.”
So I’m going to ask you to sit down and watch this. Whether you are a parent or not, whether you have a child with special needs or not, I know you will relate to every one of these beloved people in this story in some way.
And before you watch it, let me tell you what this video is for. Yes, it’s for so many parents and kids out there–to show them what is possible and give them hope. But Ruby’s Rainbow works countless hours behind the scenes, day after day, trying to raise money to help send students like Kirsta to college or pay for classes and post secondary education opportunities in their communities. In two weeks, we will celebrate World Down Syndrome Awareness Day. Today begins the 3-21 Pledge where we ask you to help us raise money so that more Kirstas can experience what you will see in this video. Here’s how you can help:
Take the 3-21 Pledge.
1. Donate $21–more if you can, less if it’s a tight time–to Ruby’s Rainbow.
2. Pledge to be kind to people of all abilities. (that’s easy!)
3. Share the pledge with THREE friends, asking them to do the same.
Social media has given us so many opportunities to raise awareness and invite people to feel more than their own story, and sharing is a big component of Ruby’s Rainbow’s success with their mission. If you’re a parent of a child with Down syndrome, here’s how you can share the pledge:
“Friends and family, if you’re ever wondering how you can help parents of kids with special needs feel supported and loved, how you can help make the world a more accepting place for our kids, I have something you can do. It would mean a lot to us if you donated $21 to Ruby’s Rainbow. For our child and his peers, it grants them the opportunity to dreams we all want for our kids. For your child, it grants him a college experience that includes knowing someone with Down syndrome.”
To make the sharing even more meaningful, you can send this video and the link to the pledge to your closest friends in an e-mail, asking them to join you in the pledge.
Okay, get your tissues, and watch the story.
Please help us these next two weeks as we support Ruby’s Rainbow. Eight years into this journey, and I never forget the incredible support this community has provided. Even if you don’t have a child with special needs, so many of you have been champions for individuals with Down syndrome in so many ways, and we are forever grateful that you join us in celebrating them and advocating for them.
As Alicia, Kirsta’s mom, told Kirsta on the drive to college…”Steady as she goes. Keep your eyes on the horizon, baby.”